JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A French parliamentarian is visiting Mississippi as part of an effort to pressure Nissan Motor Co. to allow workers at its Canton plant to organize a union.
Christian Hutin, deputy chairman of the Social Affairs Commission of the French National Assembly, is meeting Tuesday with workers, lawmakers and other supporters of the United Autoworkers efforts to unionize the plant's 6,200 employees.
The French government has an ownership stake in Nissan's business partner, the Renault Group, and pro-union advocates hope French officials can lobby the company. It's part of a continuing worldwide effort by the UAW to push Nissan to be more accepting of the union.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel has said the union has collected the required 30 percent of worker signatures to force a union vote at the plant. The union has never sought such a vote, although UAW recruitment efforts have ramped up this year.
The French government owns almost 20 percent of Renault, which in turn owns 42 percent of Nissan. The two companies have operated a worldwide alliance since 1999. French government efforts to increase its voting power over Renault last year caused strains until the government and the two companies agreed to limit that power.
Hutin and the union say Nissan unfairly pressures workers to vote against a union, something the company denies. Hutin said he agreed to come to Mississippi after several delegations of union supporters visited France. He sought a meeting with Canton plant manager Steve Marsh, but was turned down.
"Perhaps he's afraid, I say," Hutin told a group of workers, union leaders and Democratic lawmakers at the Mississippi Capitol Tuesday. "He has something to hide. It would be bad PR on their part to communicate the truth."
In June, Hutin wrote a letter co-signed by 35 French and European policymakers asking Renault-Nissan to remain neutral in union organizing efforts in Canton.
Nissan denies any improper pressure, though the company opposes a union at the plant. Nissan spokeswoman Parul Bajaj said the company respects labor law and that employees are free to support or reject the UAW.
"Nissan not only respects labor laws, but we work to ensure that all employees are aware of these laws, understand their rights and enjoy the freedom to express their opinions and elect their representation as desired," Bajaj said in a statement.
This story has been corrected to show the Nissan's spokeswoman's last name is spelled Bajaj, not Baraj, and that the French lawmaker's first name is Christian, not Chrisitian.